Owners of Jamestown Vineyards agree to restoration order
Although there has been a sense of serenity recently between the state Coastal Resources Management Council and PBH Realty over six freshwater wetland violations at Jamestown Vineyards, representatives for PBH Realty said that no harm was done to the property’s ecosystem.
Even though PBH Reality has agreed to restore the land back to its status quo, Ralph Izzi, the director of marketing and communications for the Procaccianti Group, said that the intentions of his firm wasn’t to come onto the island and use its financial influence to do whatever they wanted with the land.
“We have no interest in destroying land,” he said.
“I don’t think what we did was damaging to the land,” added Richard MacAdams, chief legal counsel for the Procaccianti Group. “In fact, I think what we did enhanced the property. We created a wetland.”
PBH Realty is a subsidiary of the Procaccianti Group, a Cranston real estate investment company owned by James Procaccianti. The company has owned or developed more than 20 million square feet of real estate valued at over $6 billion.
In 2006, PBH Realty bumped heads with the CRMC for the first time when they began clearing brush well inside the buffer zone of Narragansett Bay. The fine was $2,500, and it was paid in full in May 2007, according to Izzi.
Added MacAdams, “We cut down some brush that was inside the buffer zone that we should not have. So we paid a fine and allowed the brush to grow back. We now have a more-than sufficient buffer.”
The most recent controversy began when neighbors began hearing construction equipment being used on the Beavertail property in 2009. The CRMC issued a cease-anddesist order and also served notice of an administration fine. From there, nearly two years of appeals, hearings, onsite meetings and continuances have followed. Where it stands now, PBH Realty has agreed to restore the property to its original condition. A pond is at the center of the six violations, which opposition has labeled “man-made.” However, MacAdams said that referring to the pond as man-made is misleading. “There was always a pond here,” he said. “We just restored it.”
The pond that MacAdams is referring to can be seen on a Beaver Tail Golf Course scorecard that dates back to 1925. The seaside course was closed in 1947 when “the lingering effects of the depression and WWII took their toll and forced its closure,” according to the Beaver Tail Golf Links Restoration Project.
Also included in the business plan was mention of the pond in question, which guarded the third green that ran parallel to the bay: “[Legendary golf course architect A.W.] Tillinghast designed and built a unique surface water recovery system to provide irrigation water for the front nine. It incorporated a series of six damned retention ponds, progressing downgrade from one another, all interconnected by a stone-lined stream that eventually carried excess water overboard by the third green.”
The CRMC and the Jamestown Conservation Commission were upset because PBH Realty restored a damaged stone wall – which was already present since the days of the golf course – causing a sort of damning action. This caused the freshwater wetland to back up, fill up with water and become the pond that is present today.
MacAdams said that although the pond is a violation by book since a wetland was altered, the restored pond is actually good for the land’s ecosystem. He added that a few ducks have made the pond their home.
The 20-acre property located at 260 Beavertail Road is currently planted with 4,500 grapes across four acres. The property was bought for $3.3 million in December 2005. Since then, the property has never been used as a residence, and the only structure that stands is a barn garage.
After the last onsite meeting that included CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate and Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki on Aug. 9, PBH Realty representatives invited the Press along for a walkthrough of the property.
The property is assessable by driving down a winding stone road, which leads to the only building on the land, a barn structure. The barn is well hidden from the road and is currently used to store equipment and recreational vehicles.
From there, the land opens up which offers a stunning view of the bay. Just west of the barn, rows of grapevines lead down to more than 200 yards of brush that buffers the vineyards from Narragansett Bay. On the north side of the property is the pond, which is on the edge of the buffer and guarded by trees from the vineyards.
Because there is an overflow pipe in the pond, the pond doesn’t flood and has a maximum depth to it. According to MacAdams, the CRMC wants the water to drain back into the bay using the stone-lined stream that was built during construction of the golf course. To do this, they will have to cut the pipe down.
“The last thing we want is to do is pick a fight with the CRMC, which is why we agreed to restore the property,” said MacAdams. “But I wonder, what’s the harm of having the pond?”
Officials from CRMC did not return phone calls and emails requesting comment.
A restoration plan was supposed to be delivered to the CRMC by Sept. 9, one month after agreeing to the CRMC’s terms. Citing “an aggressive schedule” and the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in a letter to Fugate on Sept. 16 as reasons for not making the deadline, PBH Realty requested a continuance to extend the submission of a restoration plan by Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. Laura Miguel, an enforcement agent for CRMC, responded on behalf of Fugate four days later in an email that said Fugate “has agreed to extend the deadline for submission of a restoration plan for PBH Realty until October 14, 2011, at 4 p.m.”
Regardless of the pond’s presence on the land or not, Izzi said that Jamestown Vineyards is still focused on making wine. According to him, PBH Realty has always had the intentions of using the land to farm.
He said that after assessing the property five years ago, “it was determined that the property is an ideal location for growing grapes.”
There is a full-time worker that oversees the growth, production and eventual harvest of the grapes. Izzi said that they aren’t sure where they will bottle and sell the wine, and that they haven’t identified a brand yet, but initial plans have been discussed.
“We are currently speaking with other local vineyards in terms of providing them the grape harvest to produce and bottle for us,” he said.
He added, “We suspect any bottled wine produced will be done so under the Jamestown Vineyards’ moniker.”